Heading out for a hike? New pandemic rules for the trail

New wildlife warning. Six-feet. Leave room to pass hikers but way more space from bears and bison.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

The spring hiking season got off to a rocky start with thousands of acres of public lands off-limits because of the coronavirus outbreak. Most trails in California’s beaches, parks and forests have reopened, and big national parks such as Yosemite and Yellowstone are cautiously starting to welcome visitors.

As more places continue to open, hikers and cyclists are asked to follow new rules about how to responsibly return to the trails. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday issued an order that all Californians wear masks when they leave home. Though your chance of getting COVID-19 in the outdoors is low, you still need to bring a mask, take social distancing precautions, and wash or sanitize your hands more frequently.


Beyond that, rules vary depending on where you go. Start by seeking advice at, a national coalition of major outdoor retailers and organizations that came together to create guidelines to keep the wilderness and people safe.

“We’re trying to protect one another’s health,” Tania Lown-Hecht, communications director for Outdoor Alliance, which helped bring together the coalition, said in a post on REI’s website. “We all want to do everything we can to maintain access to these places because they’re so important for so many of us right now.”

Also read up on recommendations by the CDC and the California Department of Public Health on how to behave in the outdoors.

Here are some tips to get you started.

Before you go, make sure the area you plan to visit is open. Know which rules and restrictions apply during the pandemic; you’ll find them posted on park, forest or beach websites.

Always have a Plan B. If the trailhead is crowded, be prepared to explore elsewhere. Remember, the point is to avoid big gatherings and not to add to overcrowding.

Pack your own food, snacks, hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol), soap, toilet paper and anything else you may need during your visit. Park stores and facilities may not be open.

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Stay at least six feet from others on the trail. If you’re on a narrow trail, use a face covering as you pass. L.A. County’s Public Health Department suggests making eye contact with the person to let them know you plan to step off trail to allow them to pass safely. If you’re behind a slower hiker, let them know you want to pass so they can step aside. Trail users may want to stick to wide fire roads to make distancing easier.

Avoid challenging high-risk activities that could tax search-and-rescue and healthcare personnel, particularly in small mountain towns.

Practice leave-no-trace principles, which means packing out your trash, being considerate of other trail users and leaving the land as you found it. Find more on best practices in the outdoors at Leave No Trace.

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